Claude Julien is no fool, so when he called the Leafs “legit contenders” on Thursday morning, it may have just been a bit of coach-speak and little more.



What did the Bruins coach have to lose, after all, given that his team had won seven in a row against their division rivals, a team Julien figured might be dog-tired later that night?

The result may have been predictable then, a 4-2 Bruins win, but by no means was the final score the story of the game. While a win would have been a significant step forward for the Leafs, a loss is certainly no cause for panic.

This loss, in fact, may have been cause for the opposite.

They didn’t play like a tired team, they didn’t back down from any physical battled and, unlike most of the eight previous losses they now have against the Bruins, they didn’t wither away when trailing.

“That was a hard-fought hockey game, that was a man’s game,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “There was everything in it.

“When we play our system, we feel and we know that we can be competitive with every team. When we play the style of play that we have to do to be effective, it gives us a chance to win every night.”

Not on this night, though one or two fewer defensive errors and a good bounce here or there and the slide against the Bruins could have ended. Arguably, the Leafs played tougher and cleaner than in the win against the Senators the previous night and perhaps proved something in the process.